Reference Recordings proudly presents Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in a new and definitive interpretation from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. We are excited that this new release is part of the Orchestra’s 125th Anniversary joy!
This album was recorded in the beautiful and historic Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in superb DSD 256 Stereo and DSD 256 Multichannel sound. This recording was made in DSD 256 on a Pyramix DSD Workstation from Merging Technologies by the team at Soundmirror to give you, the listener, the highest sound quality possible.
Maestro Honeck honors us again with his meticulous music notes, in which he gives us great insight into his unique interpretation as well as the history and musical structure of Beethoven’s most famous symphony.
The highly acclaimed Pittsburgh Live! series
This release is the eleventh in the highly acclaimed Pittsburgh Live! series of Stereo and Multichannel DSD releases on the FRESH! imprint from Reference Recordings. This series has received GRAMMY® Nominations in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Its recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 /Barber Adagio for Strings won the 2018 GRAMMY® Awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Classical Album.
Soundmirror describes the recording process by noting that:
Based on our extensive experience of recording the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Heinz Hall, we chose five omnidirectional DPA 4006 microphones as our main microphone array. Supplementing those with “spot mics” to clarify the detail of the orchestration. Extensive listening sessions with Maestro Honeck and orchestra musicians were crucial in refining the final balance.
On August 6, 2021, NativeDSD Music released the first-ever commercially available music in Stereo DSD 1024. This album was one of those 10 albums. If you would like to give DSD 1024 listening a try, check out NativeDSD’s sampler: 5 Tracks in DSD 1024 (also released on August 6, 2021).
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck – Music Director
Christina Landshamer – Soprano
Jennifer Johnson Cano – Mezzo Soprano
Werner Gura – Tenor
Shenyang – Bass Baritone
Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh
Matthew Mehaffey – Music Director
Total time: 01:02:44
Soundmirror, Boston: We chose five omnidirectional DPA 4006 microphones as our main microphone array. Supplementing those with “spot mics” to clarify the detail of the orchestration.
|Original Recording Format|
Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA
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|Release Date||February 12, 2021|
This performance does indeed balance its multifarious adjustments to Beethoven’s dynamic requirements with a spacious warmth in the realization that does not suffer lags and sags in the musical line.
We should acknowledge immediately the contribution of acting principal timpanist Christopher Allen in the Scherzo, given the constant immediacy of his presence. This often-wild folk dance requires Allen to attend to the third, and later, the fourth measure in the measures after 195 to realize the jest of the shifting ff indication. Honeck retains the quick tempo, urging the Presto trio to move briskly without sacrificing its lyrical quality. The Pittsburgh trumpets and bassoons sound especially alert, as do the French horn, oboe and trombones. The soft dynamic Horneck applies in the trio’s second part imparts a feeling of withdrawal, kind of farewell. Honeck takes all this movement’s repeats, giving this Molto vivace movement a decided, kinetic breadth. …
The last movement Finale opens furioso and chaotic, and it then proceeds to the intimate recitative (the first of six) in tempo that will soon review the former course of the symphony’s history. … Honeck treats the tenor section, the janissary march, like a French Revolutionary military air, faster than a Prussian version of the march. The ensuing fugato proves especially brisk, leading to the ff statement of the Ode’s declaration of human cooperation.
The Seid umschlungen Millionen episode projects deep and devotional ethos, almost a reverent whisper with sudden rushes of panic. The tension between worldly and spiritual ambitions becomes colossal, realized musically as a double fugue.
The frenetic Presto Honeck imposes on the last pages can be nothing else but a rush to Judgment. The punishing tessitura for the voices embodies the human resistance to the acceptance of Beethoven’s plea for universal tolerance and brotherhood, a message that could not be more emphatic in our troubled times.
AllMusic – Editor’s Choice
Conductor Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra recorded this live reading of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, in 2019.
The marketplace was not exactly crying out for a new Beethoven’s Ninth, even considering Honeck’s strong track record in Classical-era repertory and Reference Recordings’ increasingly fine results in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. However, it is absolutely worth experiencing Honeck’s accomplishment here.
The reading is distinctive and justified at length in a booklet essay by Honeck. His reading is fast, blazing, kinetic, with moments of high contrast, such as the ethereal third movement in its entirety, giving the listener breathing space.
The first movement is quick, but Honeck relaxes the tempo just slightly as things proceed, making room for the brass to give their stentorian statements. The scherzo is very fast throughout, which has the effect of not stealing the delicate discourse from the slow movement, and the finale, though also fast, is never rushed.
There is a certain logic in playing the work this way, inasmuch as the impossible-to-sing passages in the solos become just a bit less impossible at these speeds. Most impressive is that Honeck holds the musicians and the singers together at his blazing speeds. His 22:30 timing for the finale comes in more than two minutes faster than, say, Fritz Reiner’s classic Chicago Symphony recording, and Honeck would have been even faster had he not offered a rather deliberate reading of the movement’s recitative introduction.
The soloists shine, and they deliver in a difficult reading that, at its best, feels like the cry of exultation Beethoven envisioned. The slightly American accent of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh is somehow not a detriment but an inducement here. There is real energy running through the performance and real joy.
Reference Recordings has once again produced audiophile-quality sound whose depth and transparency are awesome even on everyday equipment.
A thrilling performance of Beethoven’s crowning symphonic achievement by Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that in terms of sound and musical execution goes to the top of my list of recordings of this venerable work.
Maestro Manfred Honeck is in his twelfth season as music director of one of America’s top-tier musical organizations, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra now celebrating its 125th year. It is clear from this new recording of Ludwig van Beethoven’s towering Symphony No. 9, also called the “Choral” symphony, that the working relationship between conductor and orchestra has become a fruitful one as exemplified by this recording, the eleventh in Reference Recordings “Pittsburgh Live!” series on its FRESH! Imprint.
In addition to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, this DSD recording features an accomplished quartet of vocal soloists—soprano Christina Landshamer, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, tenor Werner Güra, and bass Shenyang—and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh led by Matthew Mehaffey. The Mendelssohn Choir has a long performing history with this orchestra and the hand-in-glove coordination of the all-important choral section attests to a level of familiarity that few other orchestras can equal.…
For those who are passionate about what is the greatest symphonic work ever composed, no one recording will ever be enough. While the quartet of singers may not be familiar to some listeners, they are vocally well matched and fit in perfectly with a work that is truly an ensemble piece. Honeck and his colleagues understood this unifying concept that now informs what is one of the best performances of the Ninth Symphony that I have ever heard. With sound that simply astounds and a musical pulse that continually thrills, this Beethoven Ninth joins the rarified air shared by a mere handful of recordings in my collection. Highest recommendation.
NativeDSD Mastering Engineer
Regardless of the format chosen, I believe for now, this is the definitive Beethoven 9 reading for both artistic value, and certainly sound quality.
Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony is a cornerstone of Western art music. Orchestras program it frequently, yet sometimes that greatness is nowhere to be found. Yet, given all the critical praise that Maestro Honeck receives for his interpretations of the Viennese classical canon, one might wonder, does he really deserve it? To the extent that one can make such a judgment based on a single performance, the answer is a resounding “Yes”.
This was a performance of grand intensity that followed the arc of the music, from the quietude of the introduction to the grand finale some forty minutes later. The control of the violins in the opening murmurs was astonishing. The timpani, with strong yet focused strikes, were awe-inspiring in the Molto vivace, the third movement providing much needed respite. The finale unleashed a torrent of passion and beautiful sound that was spine-tingling.
Honeck’s controlled dynamic contrasts add to the musical drama. This was very apparent when the low strings introduced the famous “Ode to Joy” theme. The rich sound of the PSO cellos and basses seemed to come from deep within the earth only to emerge into a grand statement of brotherhood that leaped into the heavens. The vaunted PSO brass was nothing short of amazing. The horn section was absolutely confident. Every note they played was perfect, down even to the smallest accents. This enabled Honeck to bring out inner voices employing the horns that lesser orchestras mostly blur. The trumpets were similarly gifted, and the strings were models of precision and warmth.
Pittsburgh’s Mendelssohn Choir showed a keen ability to respond to Honeck’s direction, including modifying their dynamics, even within a phrase. The Maestro chose an excitingly crisp tempo in the final movement march, which added even more spark to the fire. The soloists were placed behind the orchestra on stage right. Jennifer Johnson Cano, Christina Landshamer, and Werner Güra were powerful vocalists. Shenyang’s “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!” sounded a little tentative, but he went on to provide a great performance.
Honeck seats the PSO sections in the European style, with the cellos adjacent to the first violins on his left and the second violins to his right. This worked well in Beethoven, especially in contrapuntal passages where the two sections play contrasting roles. The Heinz Hall auditorium is large and reverberant, yet the PSO plays with transparency and precision. Honeck understands this hall and coaxes his orchestra to keep its sound clean and clear.
The lesson learned from this concert is that grand expectations do not always lead to disappointment. In fact, they can lead to great joy and satisfaction. Bravo to everyone involved in this standard-setting performance.
The majority of the ten previous releases by Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for Reference Recordings Fresh! label have featured the music of composers most familiar to, and popular with, the concert going public – Beethoven, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Bruckner et al. Inevitably, this has brought each of them into direct competition with a cornucopia of recordings from the past, all vying for attention by collectors. Nevertheless, the brilliance and charisma of Honeck’s conducting, his unique interpretive insights into the works he performs and the manner in which they are realized by the magnificent orchestra of which he has been Music Director for the past ten years, have resulted in each of these recordings moving effortlessly and justifiably into the select group of top recommendations for their respective repertoire.
The icing on the cake, of course, has been the stunningly realistic sound quality consistently achieved by the Soundmirror recording team of engineer Mark Donahue and producer Dirk Sobotka. Their longtime familiarity with the acoustics of Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh and close collaboration with the conductor in matters of post-concert editing has ensured an enthralling experience for both audiophiles and those seeking great music making.
A glance at his extensive discography indicates that Honeck has long been associated with the Austro-German repertoire that naturally places Beethoven at its core. His survey of the composer’s Symphonies for Reference Recordings has, so far, focused on the odd numbered works with outstanding accounts of symphonies 3, 5 and 7 to which this superb new recording of the Ninth can now be added.
As has become customary with these Pittsburgh releases, Manfred Honeck has contributed an engagingly readable essay in the liner notes entitled “Beethoven a Musical Manifesto for all Time” in which he begins by giving a concise account of the origins of the Ninth Symphony. He then goes on to provide fascinating movement by movement details of the interpretive decisions he has made regarding, tempi, dynamics, phrasing etc. I suspect, for many of listeners, some of these nuances may go unnoticed, yet there is no doubt that collectively they contribute to the unequivocal integrity of Honeck’s performance.
Honeck’s Beethoven as evinced from the previous releases is lithe and muscular; qualities that are at once evident in his incandescent account of the symphony’s opening movement. The conductor’s nod to period practice (violins divided antiphonally and timpani played with hard sticks) yields dividends throughout the performance while his control of dynamics in this movement is especially impressive. The scherzo that follows is bracingly energetic with marvelously crisp timpani to the fore, while the trio section, though taken at a rapid pace, is perfectly articulated by the excellent PSO woodwinds. As always, clarity and precision are a hallmark of Honeck’s performances
The slow movement – marked ‘Adagio Molto e Cantabile’– is exquisitely played and though Honeck’s swift tempo (with a timing of 12’.34” it is faster than some period performances!) may be of concern for some listeners, there is a natural and expressive unfolding of the long melodic lines and no lack of opulent lyricism in his shaping of the variations. The Finale generates plenty of anticipatory excitement in the opening orchestral recitatives and if perhaps bass-baritone Shenyang’s forthright delivery of “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne” sounds a touch strained at the start, he quickly settles down. The other three soloists, soprano Christina Landshamer, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and tenor Werner Güra, do not disappoint while the large and well drilled chorus – the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh – sing Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ with unbridled enthusiasm and excellent diction. The remarkable virtuosity displayed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra throughout is beyond praise, not least in the jubilant final bars of the symphony where the conductor tells us “Here, I have tried to go to the limit of playability” and he certainly succeeds!
The recording was compiled from live performances given at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (June 6-9, 2019) and once again the Soundmirror engineering on this Stereo and 5.0 Channel DSD 256 recording is unimpeachable.
As with most orchestras worldwide the devastating Covid-19 pandemic will have impacted on the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s future concert and recording schedules, but we are fortunate to be able to experience in wonderful high resolution DSD sound this vibrant and electrifying account of Beethoven’s final symphonic masterpiece.
New York Times
Manfred Honeck is one of today’s leading Beethoven conductors. As music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he has created notably exciting recordings of Third, Fifth, and Seventh Symphonies. Now he and the orchestra, founded 125 years ago this month, are releasing their interpretation of the mighty Ninth.
What makes Honeck’s approach so stimulating in this most standard of repertoire is the sense that he has rethought each bar of the music. He took David Allen through the turbulent opening minutes of the Ninth Symphony’s finale — before the baritone exclaims “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!” (“Oh friends, not these sounds!”) and announces the famous choral “Ode to Joy.”
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